Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Sudan: The problem with UNMIS - protection is easier said than done

Source: Erin Weir - Refugees International (RI) Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, announced that the U.S. is ... "very concerned that UNMIS take on board and fully implement the portion of its mandate – the critical portion of its mandate – that relates to the protection of civilians." Ambassador Rice did not, however, elaborate on what the United Nations Mission in Sudan, otherwise known as UNMIS, could do to make protection a reality.

Refugees International welcomes this continued re-engagement on southern Sudan, as well as the public recognition that we need a sharper focus on protecting civilians from harm during this volatile year. But like everything in Sudan, protection is easier said than done.

UNMIS was first deployed to southern Sudan in 2005. The mission was given the responsibility to monitor and support the implementation of the groundbreaking Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought an end to the vicious 22-year civil war between the north and the south.

The mandate also included a clause authorizing UNMIS to: "take the necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to... protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence." (S/RES/1590, 2005)

This clause was added to give peacekeepers the authority to act – if the commander deemed reasonable – in response to violence against civilians. It was an afterthought in a mandate that had been built entirely around long-term stabilization and peacebuilding activities. (For more on this, check out the UNMIS case study in the OCHA/DPKO commissioned study, Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations. )

The resources allocated to the mission have always reflected these "monitor and support" priorities. UNMIS monitors an area larger than the size of Texas with just 10,000 troops, roughly 1 soldier for every 32 square miles. The Security Council, senior mission leadership, troop contributing countries, and commanders on the ground, never saw protection of civilians as a priority of the mission. As a result, the mission was never given the equipment or troops necessary to effectively protect civilians from violence.

Unfortunately, the peace that seemed so promising when the CPA was signed has begun to unravel, and the conditions under which UNMIS was deployed have changed significantly. In the next year, violence in southern Sudan is not just feared, but expected, especially in the contested "three areas" (Abyei, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan). As Ambassador Rice has pointed out, UNMIS forces – as well as their political masters in the Security Council – will need to reflect this change so that they can do what is necessary to protect people from attacks.

To accomplish this, the Security Council will have to serious re-evaluate UNMIS' priorities. It will also have to look closely at what the mission needs to manage these more volatile conditions in the south. Protecting the civilian population, in addition to the standard protection of UN staff, bases and equipment, will require new resources, including helicopters and land vehicles to move troops quickly.

Without substantially more troops and equipment, the mission will be patently unable to provide robust protection. However, there is still more that can be done within the significant constraints that the mission is currently operating under. First and foremost, mission leadership must drive a process to identify protection needs and develop contingency plans in such a way as to maximize scarce resources and leverage the capabilities of all protection actors – UN, international and local.

The U.S. must ensure that UNMIS soldiers are given the resources and support back in New York to carry out any new tasks to safeguard the population, and not simply saddled with a more difficult mandate. Similarly, UNMIS senior leadership must continue to deploy temporary operating bases into the areas of concern, and pursue comprehensive, community-based protection contingency plans in collaboration with the local leaders, aid groups and all available people on the ground.

Peacekeepers can and should do more to protect people in southern Sudan as we enter yet another volatile period in the country's history. But peacekeepers can not, and must not, be expected to do this all on their own.

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